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From Keith Moon to Paul McCartney: 6 times rock stars fought the law and lost

Since the dawn of time, the terms of rebel and rock and roll have been equated as the same thing. A rebellious nature has long been inherent to the genre of music, to the point where the “bad boy” persona/image today has become a bit of a joke. The “Us v Them” essence is indeed intrinsic to music, although these days, an artist who subscribes to a rebellious vision is often met with public disdain and ire. A lot of this can be out down to the fact that a rebellious or rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, has often culminated in disaster rather than good. The “live fast die young” ethos has rightly been dispelled by the numerous tragedies it has spawned. 

One only has to note the more current tragedies surrounding Soundcloud rappers, historic rockers such as Jimi Hendrix or even the sad death of former snooker champion Alex Higgins to note that the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle is a fallacy. Contemporaries such as DIIV have been open about their struggles with addiction and the destructive nature of excess and have been quick to maintain that glorifying drug use – and everything that comes with it – is not a good thing.

However, being a rebel and a musician or creative do seem to complement each other; just we have ample evidence to show that excess on either side of the spectrum will end in misery. Take being a rebel to the extreme, and you will probably regret it. Follow all the rules to the letter, you will probably regret it too, lying awake at night aged 60 thinking about all the opportunities missed and a life typed away at a desk in an office block.

Now is the right moment to disclaim, don’t try either end of the spectrum at home. As the mysterious armchair commentators of society, it is for us to watch, and write articles such as this unobtrusively. 

However, we would be missing out on a massive part of culture’s and musical history if we totally disregard the role that rebelliousness has played in cementing music’s place as a non-conforming force. There is something about the human psyche that is attracted to the allure of musicians behaving “badly”. There have been countless times where musicians have been subjected to battles of varying scales with the law and won. However, there have been an equal amount of times where musicians from across its broad spectrum have fought the law and the law won.

In truth, the list of musicians fighting the law and the law winning is a compendium size. Join us, though, as we trim it down to the six most memorable times “rockstars” fought the law and lost. As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “No man is above the law, and no man is below it: nor do we ask any man’s permission when we ask him to obey it.” As for the meaning of Roosevelt’s statement, you can make your own mind up.

6 times rockstars fought the law and lost:

1. Frank Zappa

It was March 1965, and a then-unknown Frank Zappa was 24 and struggling to make ends meet as a musician and composer. Until one day. A used-car salesman approached Zappa and offered $100 (£1,900 today) to make a sex tape. Money being tight, Zappa and a dancer friend spent the evening recording the sounds of a pornographic film onto a cassette. However, we all know the story of Faust. The anonymous used-car salesman, who sounded dodgy from the outset, turned out to be Sergeant Jim Willis, Vice Investigator of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office. Zappa was arrested on a charge of conspiracy to commit pornography (it was the ’60s), and the law raided his California musical lab, Studio Z.

Eventually, his sentence was reduced to only 10 days of jail time. If Zappa had chosen to go straight and enter everyday work at that point, this would indeed have been disastrous for his prospects. However, as a convicted felon, this earned Zappa exclusion from the Vietnam war draft. Consequently, this is hailed as a highly significant point in his life and career. 

Who really won here?

Zappa was arrested for conspiracy to commit pornography. (Credit: Alamy)

2. Ozzy Osbourne

A classic anecdote. Osbourne has been no stranger to controversy over his long career. Biting the head off a bat and flushing a mountain of cocaine down the toilet to avoid arrest are two unhinged moments that spring to mind.

As per the legend, following a 1982 show at San Antonio’s Convention Centre, the Prince of Darkness whipped out Ozzy Jr. and relieved himself on the wall of Texas’ most hallowed landmark, the Alamo. However, reality contends that it didn’t happen like this at all.

Ozzy was actually across the road from the Alamo, next to a 60-foot monument commemorating the historic battle. Luckily for him, he didn’t aim at the giant memorial either. He was so intoxicated that he urinated on the sidewalk. The photo of this scene has gone down in pop culture history as he was wearing one of his wife Sharon’s dresses.

As per the law, he was arrested and charged with public intoxication. As per southern law, he was handed a ten-year ban from performing in San Antonio.

Osbourne was arrested for public intoxication. (Credit: Alamy)

3. GG Allin

The late GG Allin, labelled “the toughest rockstar in the world”, has gone down in history as one of the most shocking performers in all of history. He claimed to have been arrested over 50 times. However, the most notorious instance came a year before his death in February 1992. This arrest followed a show his band the Murder Junkies had played at Austin’s Cavity Club.

In keeping with his shtick, the spectacle soon descended into madness. Not long after hurtling into their set, the vocalist was naked, covered in a mix of his own blood and faeces. Austin’s boys in blue were called to the scene. One policeman filed a report after witnessing punters “running away from the stage gasping and covering their faces.” Another unlucky crowd member gave a statement claiming that “the band member that was nude threw faeces…striking him (in) the head.”

Amidst the faecal furore, Allin was sent to a nearby hospital to be treated for a self-inflicted head wound. Quickly after being dischargedhe was arrested and deported to Michigan, where he was already wanted for violating parole on an assault charge.

GG Allin was wanted for an assault charge. (Credit: Frank Mullen)

4. Michael Todd

A hilarious yet shocking entry, this moment comes from an unlikely source, Michael Todd, former bassist of prog-metallers Coheed and Cambria. In July 2011, the band were booked to perform at the Comcast Center in Mansfield, Massachusetts. 

However, during the day, bass whizz Todd was about to do some improvisation. He walked into a Walgreens pharmacy and showed the pharmacist a text on his phone claiming he had a bomb that he would destruct unless he was given OxyContin.

Like a Games Workshop version of The Bank Job, he quickly hailed a cab and returned to the venue as if nothing had happened. Unlucky for him though, he was swiftly tracked down by the police who arrested him on charges of armed robbery and possession of a class B controlled substance.

This was to be the end of Todd’s career in Coheed and Cambria. He didn’t join the band on stage that night, which was the sign of things to come. Almost immediately, the band found a replacement bassist for the rest of the tour. He was sentenced to a year of home confinement along with three years probation. He was forced to enter drug treatment and was subjected to random screenings. Less than a month after his arrest, he was out of the band for good.

Michael Todd was arrested for armed robbery. (Credit: Press)

5. Paul McCartney

In January 1980, Paul McCartney and Wings were preparing for their first tour of Japan. This was to be the former Beatle’s first visit to the island since the Liverpudlian icons split in 1970. However, this was to be the first and last time Wings visited the island too. In his suitcase, he packed eight ounces of designer cannabis. In 2004 he recalled, “I knew I wouldn’t be able to get anything to smoke over there,” he said, adding: “The stuff was too good to flush down the toilet, so I thought I’d take it with me.”

Subsequently, he was arrested on possession charges, which led to a nine-day check-in at Tokyo’s Narcotics Detention Center. This seemingly minor offence was to be the end for Wings. It led to the cancellation of their Japanese tour, which proved to be very costly. “The band was very annoyed with me because me being busted had blown one of their big paydays,” he remembered. “Nobody was too happy with me at the time.”

This costly lapse of judgement led to the disbandment of Wings soon after, a move the world has never forgiven McCartney for.

McCartney was arrested in Japan. (Credit: Alamy)

6. Keith Moon

One of rock’s most iconic drummers, Keith Moon also gained notoriety for his off-stage antics. Fittingly bestowed the nickname ‘Moon the Loon’, the drummer left a trail of wanton destruction almost everywhere he lay his hat. Although his life was short, leaving us prematurely aged 32 in 1978, he left us no end of crazy stories, some of which have only recently come to light.

The most iconic and batshit instance came on August 23rd, 1967. The Who stalwart was arrested after celebrating his 21st birthday. Firstly, it was only his 20th, but vis-a-vis the lawful American drinking age, Moon was not going to let this stop him from enjoying an alcoholic beverage. Unluckily for the Flint, Michigan Holiday Inn staff, the celebrations descended into carnage, starting with a food fight. 

This was only the beginning. In what must’ve felt like a mid-western rendition of the beaches of Normandy, rooms were trashed, toilets exploded, fire extinguishers were set off, and that Lincoln Continental found itself jettisoned in the swimming pool with a naked Moon at the wheel.

Luckily for Moon, he was briefly spared jail as the Flint P.D. escorted him to the dentist as he’d broken a tooth trying to flee the scene. It is alleged that he was so intoxicated that he didn’t require Novocaine before the treatment. The Holiday Inn group invoiced the Who a $24,000 bill for damages and banned the British hellraiser from any future stays at their premises.

Keith Moon had a number of brushes with the law. (Credit: Alamy)